Readers of our blog know that we consistently help customers avoid unnecessary fees on rentals and we're often asked multiple questions about car seats (or, as transportation regulators state, Child Restraint Systems). While abundant at rental car company counters, car seats -- infant, toddler, and booster -- come at a cost we hope the vast majority of renters will simply avoid. Keep reading to learn how!
Question 1: Do I need to request car seats in advance?
The answer here is not really. Our former rental station manager notes that rental car companies tend to have a ton of excess child safety seats. Why? Like any other product or service being bought from a commission-based representative at the rental car company at the counter, a car seat is almost entirely profit for the rental car company. You see, the average rate charged by a rental car company for a child safety seat is $13-$15 per day, per seat, plus tax; which comes to far more than $100 per week in high tax jurisdictions. Yes, we've seen rentals where the cost of a car seat has exceeded the cost of the car itself!
Instead, our former station manager recommends calling the location using the phone number on the rental confirmation a few days before pickup. The rental station manager would be more than happy to send staff out to purchase car seats if the location doesn't already have a closet full of car seats. Given the rental car location recoups the cost of a car seat within days, ensuring a sufficient number of car seats is an easy way for a site manager to increase profits. An inexpensive child seat is almost entirely profit for the rental car company; a car seat is actually much more profitable on a daily basis than the average car!
Question 2: Can you add car seats to our rental?
There are two answers to the question:
Answer 1: Technically, yes but there are many caveats. Car seats are actually not confirmed by the rental car companies -- they are requested by the renter -- and it's a manual process that adds $13-15 per day (plus all those rental car taxes per day) to A rental. Our system is set up to find the lowest possible rental rates on your behalf and the fees charged by the rental car companies for car seats vary; those are not included in the quotes provided by the rental car companies. Intentionally adding any product or service to an AutoSlash rental means a renter is very likely to miss any future price drops (and is thus discouraged).
Answer 2: The second answer is a question. Why? An AutoSlash user doesn't want to save money on their rental car to pay more than $100 per week on a car seat!
Avoiding Fees for Car Seats
A quick rhetorical question: How will the child get to the rental car?
Whether the answer is a personal car, airplane, or a shuttle operated by the rental car company, will the child placed in any moving vehicle without a car seat along the way? The safety equation includes all times our children are moving!
Option 1: Bring a seat from home
Or was the child protected with a child safety seat from home? This is my most frequent recommendation. Why? It ensures that the child always has access to an appropriate seat from the start of the trip to the end. The parent is familiar with the seat (more on that in a bit), the child knows the seat, and the seat is going to be the brand and model selected by the parents. Hint: The rental car companies are not buying the most expensive options at Babies "R" Us; they are buying the cheapest certified options at Target and making real money.
Going to fly and curious about what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends? It involves using a Child Restraint System approved for use in automobiles and airplanes and the brace position for emergencies is using the same Child Restraint System. Most airlines, even the fee-loving Spirit Airlines -- will allow checking a car seat for free!
Option 2: Join AAA and plan in advance
There are two possible ways to get a car seat without cost as a member of AAA. The first option is only available with the companies under Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty) for rentals in the United States and Canada -- the first "A" in "AAA" stands for American, so it's not a global offer.
A member of AAA is entitled to the waiver of the fee for a single child safety seat when traveling in the United States under limited circumstances. The renter has to be a member of AAA and the renter has to ask to be booked under the AAA rate code, which is probably not the lowest rate available. Need to be booked under the AAA rate code? After entering a quote request, simply just send us a note to state that you need to be booked under the AAA rate code for a free car seat.
The second option with AAA is a benefit from some of the regional affiliates; AAA is actually a consortium of these affiliates. Some (but not all) affiliates do offer loaner child safety seats, which would have to be confirmed by calling the local site. This tactic still requires membership in AAA.
Option 3: Join the National PTA
Are you a member of the National PTA? We recently discovered that the group has an affiliation with Hertz that allows a free car seat when booked under the National PTA's CDP code. Members of the organization can request AutoSlash's help booking under CDP 1929580, and membership in the PTA is ordinarily quite a bit cheaper than AAA. The rental station staff could ask for some proof of PTA membership at the time of pickup, just like with any other membership organization that entitles a user to benefits.
Why a Familiar Car Seat is Often the Best
There's a dirty little not-so-secret when it comes to the rental car companies. These organizations have tens of thousands of employees around the globe, some at corporate locations, some at franchises, and there's a lot of potential liability involved if car seats are installed incorrectly. Most rental car companies mitigate that potential liability by forbidding staff from helping to install child safety seats. Really. Here's Thrifty's link where staff members are required to give parents instructions on the car seat and to place the seat upside down inside the car, so the parent's completely aware that the seat's not installed. Our former rental station manager describes putting car seats beside or on top of vehicles to communicate the same information to parents.
While Avis states that some staff members are trained to install car seats, we would wager that's not a universal practice.
A renter with car seats must always be prepared to install those seats, whether the seat's brought from home or provided by the rental car company.
Helen Lovejoy of The Simpsons would ask some permutation of "won't someone please think of the children?". The answer to her pleading? Hertz Global Holdings does provide a few avenues for renters to pick up car seats without additional costs but neither AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, and Payless) nor Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, and National) offer fee waivers. Through contact with those organizations, we did learn that an Avis customer does have the ability to use Avis Preferred points (in lieu of cash) to pay for a car seat but there's no waiver potential on the fee.
Who will think of the children? AutoSlash, AAA, Hertz Global Holdings, and the PTA.
Ready to book your next cheap rental car with your child tagging along? Click below and we'll send you the best possible quotes -- sans child safety seats -- within minutes!